Marcos wants Cha-cha plebiscite in 2025 elections

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri (L), Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (C) and Speaker of the House Martin Romualdez reacts after the president delivered his speech during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on July 24, 2023.
AFP / Jam Sta Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told senators he wants the plebiscite on proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution to be held alongside the 2025 midterm polls, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Monday.

This is the second time that Marcos has instructed the upper chamber of Congress — which is supposed to be independent of the executive and was lukewarm to Charter change until this year — about how lawmakers should revise the 1987 Constitution. 

This follows Marcos’ directive in January that the Senate should take the lead in proposing amendments to the Charter, which he reportedly said in his meeting with Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez on concerns about the people’s initiative campaign.

Even as the House of Representatives is gunning for a plebiscite to be held as early as July, with the president’s proposed timeline, the Senate now eyes final approval of Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 6 before it adjourns on May 24, Zubiri told reporters after the Senate met with the president.

The House on Monday also began its deliberations of RBH 7 — a measure similar to its Senate counterpart but which excludes any provision on whether Congress will vote on constitutional amendments separately or jointly. 

During his speech, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro, 2nd District) said that the House filed the measure to speed up the legislative approval of economic amendments and as a response to the Senate’s “obstructionist” approach to Charter change.

Zubiri said on Monday that it’s “very clear” that the Commission on Elections will spend a large sum if a plebiscite is held before the elections, estimating the cost at around P12 billion to P14 billion.

The Senate president added that they will not be able to pass RBH 6 before March ends due to other important measures being deliberated by senators. “But definitely the hearings are continuous,” he added.

There will be a separate plenary session for the approval of RBH 6 possibly after the resumption of the session following the March 23 to April 28 break, Zubiri added.

"They might say that I'm delaying it again. It’s our target date. And our president eventually wants to course it during the 2025 elections,” Zubiri said.

The president has also directed Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, to explore the legal possibilities of convincing Comelec to include a rider question on Charter change on the back of the ballots for the 2025 national and local elections, Zubiri said.

Both House leaders and the Comelec previously thumbed down Angara's suggestion to synchronize the Cha-cha plebiscite with the 2025 elections. 

Comelec Chairperson George Garcia cited a Supreme Court ruling that says plebiscites for the amendment of the Constitution cannot be held simultaneous with a regular election. 

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Manuel Dalipe said that the Charter change process could become "politicized" if people are asked to vote on amendments at a time when several candidates are gunning for local and national posts.

Both RBH 6 and 7 seek to relax the restrictions on foreign ownership in public utilities, higher education and advertising. 

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